Chris Curtis is the founder and retired executive director of Neighborhood Farmers Markets. Later this summer, Neighborhood Farmers Markets celebrates three decades of maintaining seven thriving Washington-based farmers markets. Learn more about Chris Curtis…
Hometown: Skagit Valley Girl, c/o Burlington, WA
First job: As a kid picking strawberries for Swenson’s Berry Farm in Burlington, then raspberries, then cukes, then as a teenager moving up the Skagit Valley job ladder to roguing field seed spinach and finally, during college, the processed food line at Libby’s Frozen Foods in Mt. Vernon.
Favorite ways to spend your free time in WA: Driving and exploring country roads on both sides of the mountains – birding, looking at rural landscapes and farmland.
Your biggest accomplishment and why: Besides being married for over 50 years, it’s been the organizing and oversight of Seattle’s wonderful NFM Markets. Since their start in 1993, the best job of my life has been my work with local farmers, Seattle neighborhoods, local food mavens and policy makers – all of us helping to ensure that Seattle has one of the best networks of farmers markets in the country and that they are on solid ground and sustainable for the future.
The biggest obstacle you overcame: Securing permanent locations for the markets was an on-going challenge. All seven of them have had to move at least once. Getting the City’s permission to move onto arterial streets and negotiating long generous leases with private landlords often felt like a full-time job. Thankfully, the seven current locations are secure, and the market are thriving.
Someone who inspires you and why: In the beginning, Seattle didn’t have neighborhood-based markets dedicated to farmers and local food. For inspiration and advice, I ended up relying on other dedicated farmers market pioneers across the country: Laura Avery at the Santa Monica Farmers Market; Ann Yonkers and Bernie Prince of FreshFarm Markets in Washington, DC; Lynn Bagley of the Marin Markets in California; and Pam Roy in Santa Fe. Remarkable women, all, who helped pave the way.
Advice to someone pursuing a career path in what you do: Seattle’s farmers markets have truly led the way for local farms and local farmlands to stay viable and intact for the future. Don’t underestimate the agricultural importance of farmers markets or the real food economy they support. Be prepared to work hard on their behalf and to tell their story.
Favorite quote: “There’s nothing under the ground that’s worth more than the little layer of topsoil sitting on top of it.” –Wendell Berry
Something someone would be surprised to learn about you: Maybe not a surprise, but back in the day I was FFA Sweetheart at Burlington-Edison High School in Skagit Valley!
What makes someone fabulous: A good sense of humor and a stronger sense of humility…and a good haircut helps too.